April 30th, 2007

Deja Vu

Photo: Cristina Quickler/Agence France-Presse--Getty Images

This image of Mstislav Rostropovich (1927 - 2007) is the very best representation of how I saw the great musician in the mid 70s, when I was on an assignment for a magazine. It was a Saturday afternoon rehearsal at St. Louis's Symphony Hall for the evening performance. I sat in the first row, alone in the middle, right up next to the stage, taking notes.

While the orchestra took a break, Maestro began a solo piece I did not recognize, but it might have been by Penderecki, or Dutilleux, or Lutoslawski, or by another of the many contemporary composers he regularly sought out and performed.

In any event, as he played a textured andante passage the sound of his cello was resonant and powerful and seemed to suffuse my entire consciousness, in a way that I had not experienced before. He immediately noticed my reaction. His eyes met mine, he locked his intense gaze on mine, and he continued playing with even more intensity, as if he--ever the grand master--was communicating directly and only to me. It was an utterly astonishing mental and spiritual encounter that suggested déjà vu. Entirely new, but yet profoundly familiar.

Maestro continued playing and I shook my head slowly in awe of his virtuosity and my own reaction to it, and he smiled, kindly, and then laughed, or I should say grunted with satisfaction. He knew exactly what he was doing.

More on Maestro’s passing can be seen here.